Xerath’s III is quite unlike anything you’ve heard before, with a mix of melody, death metal, groove, orchestration, atmospheres and overall experimentation, showing that there’s something truly unique to be found within. I spoke with Richard Thomson (Vocals) as he discussed how the band began, as well as his love for all things sci-fi, Devin Townsend and Pantera. We also discussed the band’s tour in China and the possibility of humanity being conquered by an insectoid race… Hey, it could happen!
So tell me a little bit about the band and how you all got together. What was the goal in mind for Xerath and where does that name derive?
Xerath was first formed in 2007 after a few of the bands we were playing in previously fell by the wayside. We had always talked about doing something together for years but we all had our separate projects and bands going on. Our original guitar player Andy Phillips eventually began making some demos in his home studio attempting to combine orchestral passages with low, groovy riffs. Those demos snowballed into a complete album around 2008 which was sent around to various labels and was eventually picked up by Candlelight. Ever since then our goal has always been to continue developing the sound that we created on our debut and to hopefully carve our own unique path in the plethora of metal genres! Hopefully with our latest album, we have made another positive step in that direction. We hope the fans will think so too! As for the name Xerath, I’m afraid it was just a word we made up which we thought sounded cool and certainly not derived from the popular video game character Xerath from League of Legends!
The new album is called III, which is quite obvious due to the other records being I and II respectively. But what makes III stand apart from the previous two records? What new surprises have you offered to fans and newcomers alike on this record that they wouldn’t have heard on previous albums?
What I hope will please fans the most is that we truly believe we have stepped up the songwriting a huge amount. The songs are slightly more to the point and more memorable as a result. But that doesn’t mean we’ve simplified things by any means! Also, we used a real string quartet which we’ve never had the chance to do before so this makes a huge difference sonically to the orchestral parts. We also have a lot more lead guitar playing on this album for the guitar nerds out there! We had to celebrate the recruitment of our new guitarist Conor McGouran somehow!
Tell me a little bit about the process behind III. Where did the majority of the writing and recording take place and how long did that take? What was the atmosphere like in the studio?
The way we recorded III was quite similar to how we recorded the previous two albums. Myself and Mike (drums) would basically sit in our home studios up into the early hours and send demos back and forth to each other for about a year or so, then come together in one room to refine and complete the songs! This is where Chris (bass) would chime in with ideas and structural suggestions etc. We made sure to get everyone involved as you need fresh ears after being in your own little world laying down demos for so long! We tend to record most of our albums at home, so the atmosphere is always very relaxed. We set everything up in one of our living rooms and just take our time! The strings, drums and some of the choral vocal parts were recorded in separate studios. All in all it took about four months to record, which is much faster than any Wintersun record let me tell you! (Winks)
There are plenty of songs on this new record which have a feel that reminds me a little bit of Devin Townsend. How much influence would you say that Devin Townsend has on the band?
Oh yes, Devin Townsend is certainly a huge influence on Xerath. There’s no hiding that! We’re the biggest fans of his early work with Steve Vai on the album Sex and Religion which people are making the connection with so far. His nineties work is quite underrated too. Albums like Ocean Machine and Terria are masterpieces. His recent success isn’t really due to these albums in particular but we’re glad he’s doing so well these days! Would it kill him to give us a support slot? Jeez!
Furthermore, who else would you say are major influences to Xerath. What influenced you to pick up an instrument in the first place?
We have an absolute ton of influences that come to mind when it comes to Xerath. We’re fans of all types of music which we hope you can hear in the music we play. Anything from pop, to fusion, to jazz, to electronic, to classic rock are all things we like to draw from. We all came from similar backgrounds in terms of the music we grew up with. Most of us were inspired by the rock bands of the seventies initially which lead to listening to heavier bands like Metallica and Pantera. Since then our tastes have split off in so many different directions that it’s hard to trace it all! But also Pantera – Definitely Pantera!
Now let’s talk about the concepts behind III. For those with no lyric booklet in their hands, what exactly is the focus? I’ve seen several topics like what might be the devastating future world depicted on the cover in “2053” and there’s also the “Demigod Doctrine” which makes me think of Azrael, whom according to an old religious cult, was a sort of false god in control of this world. We also have topics like “In My Domain” and “Passenger” as well as the two part “Veil” which emits an elusive level of grandeur.
For this release we actually didn’t have an overall concept in mind. Mike would usually write the majority of the lyrics but this time we split it amongst everyone. I’m a huge sci-fi nerd so I was interested in bringing some of author Arthur C. Clarke’s ideas to my songs. “I Hold Dominion”, “Sentinels”, “Passenger” and “Witness” are all derived from the Space Odyssey books amongst a few others. Elusive level of grandeur is a good description of the feeling I wanted to convey for sure! Mike’s lyrics tend to focus on issues such as corrupt tyrants and the always bubbling threat of planetary annihilation (“Demigod Doctrine” and “2053” respectively). It was cool to keep each song as an individual concept and story rather than have an entire overarching narrative to the entire album, though I’m sure this will change when we come to IV!
I’ve noticed that while your band employs a lot of djent elements on this record, you don’t overwhelm the record with this current trend in the metal scene. It sounds like with many other established acts, you’ve merely decided to add another style into your repertoire. Other bands who I’ve noticed have done very well with this djent style of playing are France’s Sybreed and Deadfall from the US. But what do you feel of this djent trend? Do you think it is something that bands will utilize for many years to come, or do you think it will die out in another five to six years in favor of another new style that hasn’t been discovered yet?
If I’m perfectly honest, we don’t consider ourselves a djent band at all! We certainly have djent fans that listen to and enjoy our music but it’s not something that we really listen to or take any influence from. I’ve found over the years due to the rise of this particular genre, bands like Fear Factory, Nevermore and Strapping Young Lad get labelled as djent purely because they use 7-strings or a lower tuning. I think djent has a very distinctive sound to it and unfortunately it’s been replicated so many times that it’s become very stale in a relatively short amount of time. The rise of technology and the ease of home recording is the main reason for the huge rise in bands making this music and we’re now completely inundated with djent copycats. My opinion is the progenitors of this movement (Tesseract, Animals as Leaders and Periphery) will continue to do well but already I’m starting to see the cynicism and disinterest in the newer bands coming out.
Though the question is hard for many bands, I would also ask you what are your top five records of all time? Are there any that you feel didn’t get enough recognition back when they were released?
Ah come on! This is an impossible question, but what the hell. I’ll give it a go. But it will most certainly change as soon as I’ve finished this interview! From the top of my head:
1. Pink Floyd – The Wall
2. Steve Vai – Sex and Religion
3. Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power
4. Metallica – Metallica (The Black Album)
5. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II
With touring, I’m sure that you’ve shared many unique experiences while on the road. Tell us a little about some of your best and worst of these. Also what do you do on the road for enjoyment?
I think one of our best experiences was getting to tour in China. We were there for three weeks and could not believe the reaction we received from the Chinese metal fans. One show we played in front of ten-thousand people on the filthiest beach you’ve ever seen. The day after, we played to a crowd of about a hundred and fifty who were so hungry for live music that we had to stop the show several times just to make sure that no one got hurt! In terms of bad experiences, our first tour of India ended in most of the band getting serious food poisoning… and that’s all you really need to know. (Laughs) Despite that, we’ve toured India twice and always had a blast! You do what you can for fun on the road really! Hang out, read, TV series binge on an Ipad, drink, listen to music and try to stay alive! Much the same as being at home but more travelling!
When not playing in Xerath, what other activities do you enjoy? Would you consider yourself an avid reader, or do you enjoy modern video gaming, watching shows or films, or perhaps a nice walk out in nature? What are some things that you might recommend?
Pretty much all of the above really. I’m a huge gamer so when I have the time I indulge in baddie shooting on my PC or Xbox. Sci-fi shows like Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica are my favorites, though I enjoy shows like Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad (because everyone does right?). I probably should get out to nature more but I cycle to work most days so that sort of counts! Despite all that you can usually find me on the home studio attempting to make music!
Are there any books, films or other mediums that would be considered inspiration to some of the lyrical topics on your albums, both past and present?
Absolutely! As I mentioned before, the work of Arthur C. Clarke features prominently in III‘s lyrics. His speculative science fiction approach really appeals to me because his message is mostly positive about humanity, that we’re not all completely doomed! This is quite a contrast to a lot of metal lyrics you tend to hear which focus on humanity’s decline. We do talk about that but with a more of an optimistic spin on things. The Xerath “I” track Right to Exist talks about these sort of ideas too. We’re certainly not angry young men! Well, we’re old now!
As far as the topic of belief is concerned, what exactly do you believe in?
I can speak for everyone in the band when I say we would all probably consider ourselves Atheists, though not the militant Richard Dawkins type! Even though we certainly respect him and his views for sure! We all have friends of various faiths so we never bog things down by judging people for the way they live their lives. We only have a problem if we’re being preached at. No one likes that! It can be especially frustrating coming from musicians. We take the James Hetfield approach. Keep the lyrics personal and don’t ruin the show by trying to tell the audience what to believe! Just play the fucking music!
What is something about you that people would never guess?
I’m a competent ice-skater and a huge country music fan!
Are any shows in the states planned for Xerath in this year or possibly the next?
There aren’t any plans currently, but as soon as we get the offer we are there! It’s quite difficult for small, emerging bands to afford to get over to the states but we’re doing everything in our power that’s for sure!
Finally, if you were to predict the future, what do you think it would be like? Would it be the grim dystopia of “2053” or something else?
Personally I think we are headed for a bright future. We have a lot of obstacles to overcome but as soon as humanity emerges from its infancy, we’ll start getting along a bit better I think. Unless we are conquered by an insectoid alien race and consumed for resources. It could happen!
Thanks for answering my questions and for a memorable release in III. There’s nothing quite like it! – Eric
Thanks a lot for the interview and for the interest in our band! It was a pleasure.